In late December 2016, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) made a monumental decision to change the landscape of midwifery in the UK.

The council declared that the insurance used by independent midwives is inadequate – effectively banning them as a birth choice. For many, this move signals another worrying step away from the Government’s promise to provide better maternity care for all women. If women are prevented from paying privately for their own choice of health care, what other options might one day be forbidden?

What are independent midwives?

Independent midwives are fully qualified, self-employed midwives who have chosen to work outside of the NHS. An independent midwife will care for a women throughout her pregnancy, birth and during the early post-natal weeks.

They will carry out all of the same assessments and checks that would conducted by an NHS midwife. They’re particularly useful to women who are planning a homebirth as they are on call on a 24/7 basis and offer attentive one-to-one care. They can also provide non-medical support and reassurance during hospital births.

The independent midwife ban

The NMC say that their recent decision – which was put into immediate effect – is based on their belief that the professional indemnity insurance provided by IMUK (Independent Midwives UK) is not fit for purpose. However, the NMC have also refused to give guidance on what they do consider to be adequate insurance.

The Royal College of Midwives (RMC) commented: “The RCM has not been party to this investigation by the NMC and so cannot comment on how their decision has been reached. This is undoubtedly a very difficult situation for the midwives affected and the women they care for.”

Listen as one midwife broke down in tears live on LBC as she told of how she was banned from being present at her own daughter’s birth due to the new rules

Impact on birth rights for all

Women who have booked an independent midwife now face the uncertainty of reorganising their antenatal care and birth plans. Some women are expecting their babies in only a few weeks. This situation is particularly upsetting for families who hired an independent midwife because of a previous traumatic birth experience or because they felt unsupported by their local NHS.

Birthrights, an organisation that protects women’s right in childbirth, said: “The NMC has a key role to play in protecting public safety, yet this decision directly jeopardises the health and safety of the women it is supposed to safeguard. Beyond the very real physical health implications of this decision, it is causing emotional trauma to women and their families at an intensely vulnerable time.

“Overall, [the NMC’s] actions appear designed to cause maximum disruption and damage to independent midwives and the women they care for.”

I’m not hiring an Independent Midwife. Why should this matter to me?

The NMC’s decision doesn’t just effect women who have chosen to hire an independent midwife. By taking away existing options, it makes a powerful statement about the lack of commitment to supporting women’s birth choices, both now and in the future.

Generations of women will feel the impact of choices that are made today. Stretched NHS services are already forced to place limits on the level of care they can give to mothers, particularly those planning a homebirth.

Government policy has promised women greater choice, but understaffed units and increasing safety concerns means that real birth choices are little more than an illusion. Removing a women’s right to hire her own qualified midwife is just another barrier to allowing people to make their own decisions.

You can help save the future of midwifery in the UK.  Find out how at saveourmidwives.co.uk